When we read the Irish Times’ sport section on Monday, the main thing that jumped out at us was Gerry’s return to full frontal teenage girl gushing over Deccie – Il Duce was not only vindicated by Conor Murray’s selection, but “utterly vindicated“. Little did we know that it was Toland’s analytical and thoughtful deconstruction of some of Nigel Owens refereeing calls that would cause waves – after all, it seemed to be accepted fact that Owens got at least one big call wrong (the wheeled scrum) with significant consequences.
Toland’s article was fairly typical for him – analytical and detailed, always a good read but occasionally confusing, and something you need to concentrate on. It wasn’t a rant or a frothing moan, but quite obviously written from an Irish perspective. It certainly was not worth Nigel Owens getting his two penn’oth in, that’s for sure. But he did, wading in on twitter (on which he is a highly prolific and grammatically wayward participant) and claiming Colonel Liam was “wrong in law” and derided him for being biased and printing “lies“. Lies!!
There was no need for Owens to get involved – he is paid to referee as he sees fit and Toland is paid to write what he sees fit. It might be frustrating to read articles you consider incorrect, but it’s really part of the job. There was no personal abuse and no impugning of Owens’ neutrality, just a dry critique. Many moons ago, Romain Poite said to Egg in Bruxelles that he gets abusive communication from fans all the time (quelle surprise!) – you’d imagine all referees do, and it’s something they learn to live with.
Owens’ toy de-pramming had one immediate impact – huge interest in Toland’s original article. As they say in Hollywood, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and the IT and Toland milked it for all it was worth. Poor delicate little lamb Liam was “disappointed” that Nigel disagreed with him, so much so in fact that he managed to fill a few column inches saying the d-word no less than four times.
Still, it is worth pointing out that the Irish rugby capos (e.g. Deccie and his apostles) roll out the blame-the-ref approach all the time. Axel had been in the setup about 10 minutes when he started the familiar moan after the France game. And faithful junta lapdog, bearded leather legend Gerry, famously blamed the referee or his assistants for results in 4 of Ireland’s 5 2011 Six Nations games and before Leinster’s semi-final in Clermont this season, took the bizarre step of blaming Wayne Barnes for a game that had not even yet been played. It’s tiresome enough for the fans, so it’s easy to imagine the referees get sick of it as well.
It’s also worth highlighting the reaction after Owens’ performance in the Munster-Northampton match earlier this season. In what turned out to be the most permissive piece of refereeing all season (and was a catalyst for mid-season tightening of ruck rules, ultimately to Munster’s detriment against Ulster), Nigel Owens famously allowed sealing off, entering from the side of the ruck and going off your feet in the 41 phases leading up to Radge’s amazing drop goal. The reaction from Gerry?
Nigel Owens, at the centre of yet another taut finish and protracted end game [signalled] Ronan O’Gara had delivered.
That’s consistency alright – it’s no wonder Owens feels he is only getting lambasted because Ireland lost. And what of Gerry’s favourite statistic – the penalty count? Why, that was 11-9 in Ireland’s favour! Maybe not so biased after all then.
Typically, and hilariously, Hugh Farrelly has taken another opportunity to point the blame at the internet for the whole affair, even though Toland’s piece was published in print meeja – which we all know is inherently better than the ‘underpants brigade’ anyway. Now to order some takeaway and sit in a darkened room…